Jane Austen’s Career


Pat here:

The heroine of the Regency historical mystery series I’m currently scribbling is a novelist. She’s not poor, but she has expenses her income can’t meet. So I was interested in how much she might earn as a beginning writer. Of course, Jane Austen instantly came to mind.

It’s a fascinating bunny hole to dive down. Did you know writers had to pay for publication then? It didn’t necessarily have to be upfront, but one way or another, they paid for the printing. If one was well known and had an influential patron who could recommend your books so a group of people would pay in advance, one might serialize and pay as you go. Neither my heroine nor Austen were in that position.

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Musings on Money and Hero Inflation

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Pity the poor traditional Harlequin hero—it used to be enough to be a Millionaire Italian Stallion to win the hot Heroine Virgin Bride, but in these difficult economic times, he won’t get to first base unless he’s a billionaire.  A million dollars or euros just don’t go as far as they used to. 

Billionaires are all the rage in contemporary romance these days—I have a friend whose editor asked her to come up with a trilogy of them—but grade inflation has also been taking place in historical romance.  It used to be that any kind of lord would do.  Indeed, the sainted Georgette Heyer had some heroes that had no title at all.  Simple Misters!!!! Imagine, it was enough to be a wealthy gentleman.  Shocking, isn’t it? 

Fairy tale castle


The heart of this is the Cinderella myth of marrying up, and which is part of the fantasy in most romances.  It makes perfect sense—most people have to deal with money problems at some point, and some live near the financial edge their whole lives.  So it’s great fun to imagine a billionaire whisking you off to his private island in Greece, or the lord making you the lady of his manor.

There are romances that don’t take place at such lofty financial levels, of course—the small town series that are so popular now focus on people with much more normal incomes.  But the common theme is that once Cinderella wins the prince, she’ll have more comfort and security for her future.  The reason it’s such a strong romance trope is because it’s true in reality: it’s a very fine thing to have food on the table, a roof over the head, and a future where those things will continue to be secure. 

Money matters!

Jane Austen wrote wickedly amusing social commentary, but it was based on harsh
reality.  In Pride and Predudice, modern readers can see the scary economic realities of her time.  Since Mr. Bennet has no son, his entailed property will go a male relative and his five daughters face uncertain futures.  Marriage is their best bet for security, but without much in the way of dowries, their prospects aren’t good.  If they marry at all, they mightPride and Prejudice have to move down the social scale.  

Hence, Jane’s marriage to Mr. Bingley (5000 pounds a year!!) and Elizabeth’s to Mr. Darcy (10,000 pounds a year!!!!) represent not just a social but an economic triumph.  Because family was the social net of the day, the other Bennet sisters will be assured of “three hots and a cot” even if they remain unwed because their well married older sisters will look out for them.  Being a spinster aunt and companion isn’t ideal, but it beats being homeless.  (Lydia will be no help, though.  She and the appalling Wickham will regularly try to hit up their brothers in law for handouts.)

That’s the economic reality buried amongst the billionaires and dukes:  “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and rich is better.”

Rolls RoyceHow much is enough?

How much money one needs to feel rich is an interesting question.  I suspect that I’d find a billion dollars oppressive rather than comforting. Quite apart from having trouble imagining that amount of money, I know that fortunes on that order require a lot of tending, and tending money is boring.

So I don’t need a billionaire, but how many millions would it take to allow me to feel rich?  Two million?  Five million?  Hard to say.   I once read that most people consider “rich” to be somewhat more than they have.  In an African village, the rich guy might be the one who has a concrete floor in his hut rather than dirt.  In Beverly Hills, it’s safe to say that the amount is much higher. <G>

Do we need a duke??

To bring these musings back to historical romance, I freely admit that I enjoy throwing titles around, though I’ve written several books where the title belongs to the lady and her true love is a commoner.  But I try to avoid rank inflation.  There weren’t all of that many dukes around, so I only use that title when I want to make a particular point. 

FeastMost of my heroines have at least a dash of Cinderella in them because they’re seldom wealthy.  Often they must make their own way in a society that doesn’t have a lot of options.  But by the end of the book, they have secure futures. 

I write the stories that way because that’s how I like books to end when I’m reading.  Some years ago, I read a Scottish Rising historical romance.  The sensible and well grounded heroine, who is loyal to the British crown, ends up falling for a handsome Jacobite.  At the end, they run away from everything without much more than the clothes on their backs.  I did NOT like that.  (And wouldn’t like it even if I had a better opinion of Bonnie Prince Charlie.) 

Bag LadyThis is probably not unrelated to the fact that I know a number of women who have bag lady fantasies, particularly those who are unmarried and/or self-employed.  (A fantasy writer friend of mine just bought her first house, and a major motivation for the purchase was so she needn’t fear ending up single and impoverished and potentially homeless, which is a very real fear for writers in a difficult market and rising rents.) 

I should note that despite my wanting to see characters financially secure, in my own life I’ve chosen creative fun over common sense every time.  Perhaps that’s why I like at least my characters to be secure. <G>

All of this contributes to why marrying money fantasies are so inherent in romance, whether it’s mega-money or modest comfort.  The commitment at the heart of a romance often implies building a family, and a woman wants security for her children as well as herself.  She wants a man who she can trust on all levels: that he’ll be kind, loving, faithful—and that he’ll provide well enough to protect their offspring. 

DSCN0007Success vs. Happiness

I’ve read that success is getting what you want, and happiness is wanting what you get. People who enjoy the small things of life and are content with what they are better off than those that are never satisfied. 

So what degree of material comfort and security do you like to see in your romances?  Or in your own life?  What is wealth?  And how much is enough?

Mary Jo



Charliefirst Hi, here's Jo, with on of Charlie's baby pictures, talking money.

Georgian money.

Last Friday the Wenches talked about our writing process, which is a complex medley. Getting words down is crucial, but it's not the bulk of the work. Thinking is extremely important, as is reading of all sorts and, of course, research. I've been trying to pin down the right amount per month for a lady to be reduced to true poverty, and it's not easy. In the process I've dug into various sources, and I thought I'd share this one.

What wages did servants get?

These figures are from The Domestic Servant in the 18th Century, by J Jean Hecht, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956. This is a fabulous book that gives a real insight into the Georgian world and the structure of the lives of both servants and employers, including the great estates which had people like the Land Steward.

The Land Steward would be responsible for the estate, including the home farm, which provided food for the house. He could be responsible for other estates as well. He would usually have his own home, but provided by the employer. However, most of the servants below would get room and board and many would get clothing, especially if they wore livery.

The book gives a range taken from actual examples. I've picked one figure that seems to me to be typical, but of course a lot depended on the size of the place and the duties involved. There was plenty of room for haggling, for in the eighteenth century, especially in London, servants had a very clear idea of their requirements and rights.

The figures following are pounds per annum

Land Steward 200
House Steward 100
Clerk of the kitchen, 100
Clerk of the stables 50(The clerks were left over from the middle ages and became rare in the 18th century.)
Man cook 30
Confectioner 50
Valet 14
Butler 20 (The butler later took over the house steward role.)
Gardener 25
Coachman 20
Footman 8
Groom 10
Footboy 2
Lady's maid 10
Housekeeper 12
Cook 8
Housemaid 6Gshill
Maid of all work 6
Laundry maid 7
Scullery maid 6  

To the right is a shilling of the period.

Wages were generally lower in the country than in London, but as some servants in larger establishments were taken to London with the family, in that situation the differences would be smaller.

For more pGquartergictures of coins of the period click here. Note the divisions of the guineas — this is a quarter guinea — showing how much they were worth, day to day. 

Board Wages.

You might have read in a book about the servants in a house being on board wages because the employer wasn't in residence. This meant that their wage was increased, but they had to find all their food themselves. The rationale was that they wouldn't be living high at the employer's expense. The servants might pool the money to buy food to cook, but mostly it meant eating out in a chop house or tavern, or buying from street vendors such as piemen. Board wages varied between 5-10s, which I have to assume is per week.
So that was the amount seen as necessary for a person to live for a
week on bought food.

Sometimes staff were employed "on constant board wages", again to try to prevent them living well at the employer's expense.

Board wages could be liberating for the servants. They had to be given time and liberty to go out for food, and if they were canny in how they spent it, they could end up with extra money in their pockets. For this reason, many in the employing classes saw constant board wages as undermining social order.

Tea Money.
By the mid eighteenth century, tea had become central to decent life in England, and the servants demanded their tea. Some servants included daily tea in their contracts, and many employers gave money in lieu. It usually came to about a guinea a year.

The Perks of the Job.

Perks are, of course, perquisites, including vails, or tips.

For example, the butler was entitled to candle ends and bottles, the cook to dripping, bones, extra fat etc which would be sold. We have to remember that fat was crucial for people working hard in all weathers. (Side issue I heard on the radio recently. During WWII, Britain bought in a law mandating a high sugar level in soft drinks as the easiest way to get necessary calories into children during rationing. It was only repealed in 1996!)

Footman1612 Footmen were entitled to his livery, and to card money — that was money for the cards used in an evening of play.  The going rate was 1 shilling for one pack, 18d for two, and the coins were generally slipped under the candlestick on the table. There was a bit of sense to this as the cards of the period were much flimsier than cards today. They were literally card, much like the thickness of a business card, and soon were mangled. That made it easy for the quick of eye and wit to tell what cards an opponent held, even without marking, which was also easy. Therefore, people preferred to at least start the night with a fresh pack, and I assume (though it wasn't stated in the book) that the footmen provided them. Even so, they'll have made a profit and doubtless sold on the used packs to poorer people.

(This picture is from this site which is about a film called The Highwayman. I hope it's not based on the poem, and thus ending badly. Oh dear. I quote from the site. "Synopsis:    In 18th century England, a young farmer finds his world falling apart
as he discovers a tangle of past lies and betrayals when his father dies. He is evicted
from the farm he thought was his and turned away from the woman he loves. First in desperation,
then for revenge, he becomes the highway robber of the poem and fulfills its horrific conclusion." Sounds like Braveheart in wigs!

The sloppy fitting livery in the picture was probably true of many footman of the time, though often they were turned out splendidly to reflect their master's glory. Especially the running footman, but that's a subject for another blog. However, they generally powdered their hair rather than using ill-fitting, flossy wigs.

There are interesting stills from the film here.)

Upper servants received cast off clothing, either to wear or sell. (In a couple of my books I've had characters go to a "rag shop", or used clothing shop, when in need of instant clothing. We all know they're not going to get something new at the snap of the fingers. This was a considerable perk. The Duke of Kingston's valet complained "During the sixteen years that I served the duke, I had but two lots of clothes given me, the first amounting to fifty, the second to near ninety." We can see that the amounts are many times his annual wage, so no wonder he was miffed.

On to vails, or tips, from the word avail, or
benefit.  In a quiet household, a footman would expect higher wages because he wouldn't have much in the way of vails from guests. The amount to be expected might be specified in advertisements for servants.

Vails were not voluntary but, rather like tips in many situations today, expected. Not paying them in the first half of the eighteenth century would result in rotten service if the guest returned, and sometimes assault. They were paid by visiting guests upon departure,  The higher servants lined up to receive them and then usually (again as with most restaurants today) part was shared with other staff. In some households, the total was given to the employer who then distributed it according to rank.

The amount in proportion to wages varied by household, but it was not uncommon for vails to equal the wages, that is double the stated amount of wages per annum.

Employers increasingly disliked vails because they made their guests uncomfortable, especially foreign ones who didn't understand the system. Accepting an invitation to dine was generally more expensive than eating in  a tavern. Even Queen Caroline complained of the expense of visiting her friends in London. There's a story of a nobleman encountering an acquaintance in the park and chiding him for not accepting any of his many invitations. The other gentleman apologized, but said he couldn't afford it. The nobleman completely understood.

In 1759 employers in Scotland gradually resolved not to allow vails and passed laws to ban them.

it took longer in England, but spread county by county until the nobility and gentry met at Almack's in 1764 "unanimously resolved neither to give nor allow any vails to servants." Servants fought back with rudeness, poor service, and by leaving to go to places whece vails were still allowed. Some went as far as damaging the property of guests, and Sir Francis Dashwood was threatened with death. In 1764 servants rioted at Ranelagh, but most employers and guests held firm and by 1767 the practice seems to have gone in most places. I haven't yet found out if wages went as a consequence, but I'd think so.

(As a writerly note, this was all going on during my Malloren books, and is the sort of furore that would be fun to include in a book, but the system would have to be set up and explained before the action and drama could really make sense, and that could clog up the book unless it was a core issue. And it never has been.)

There's plenty more in the book, and I strongly recommend trying to find a copy, or getting it through your library on inter-library load. I remember my thrill when I found a copy of my own a while back in a bookstore in Brighton.

Do you have any 18th century financial details to toss into this pot?

There's an interesting page here about the servants' world. The site is about Jane Austen, but this article goes well back into the eighteenth century. This site also linked to an interesting list of servants at Emo Court in Ireland.  Click here.

Do you like these sorts of details? 

Do you like to have a lot about servants in a historical romance?Tsdbroch

I only include servants when they have a particular part to play because I'm in the heads of my characters, who are mostly so accustomed to servants that they don't pay them much attention unless there's a lack.Or if there's something in particular. For example, in my MIP the hero notices the way the lower servants treat him differently because he's changed from scapegrace younger son to earl. It's part of the huge changes in his life. At the same time, we see how little he knows about the inner workings of the place that's been his home all his younger life. Taken for granted, as we take our service-filled world today.

When we go into a building, we don't think about the people who were there earlier to clean it — unless it's dirty. When we take something off a store shelf, we don't think about who put it there — unless the shelves are badly stocked. When we take public transportation, how much time do we spend considering the private life and concerns of the driver.

For this reason, as a reader I get twitchy about upper class characters who are much engaged with the servant world unless it's clearly motivated. Do you?

If we look at the past from the lower angle, a poor person might hardly have anyone outside their family and friends do anything for them.They'd grow, make, mend, cook and clean everything from scratch, and of course, nothing would be wasted. Do you think we appreciate these sorts of things as we time travel into the past in historical fiction?

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